Wrapping up the year with Justice Breyer, a police firing, and forensic hair analysis

gavel stock image MslnI’m wrapping up the year with links to a broadcast I enjoyed, a report of a police officer’s resignation in lieu of being fired, and a story that could make a great legal thriller.

I’ve long admired Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer. This NPR podcast includes a frank and fun interview, in which the justice describes the court’s decision-making process, offers his comments on the new musical on Alexander Hamilton, and opines on the art of compromise.

The Seattle Stranger reports on the resignation of an officer who faced termination for violating “several department policies, including policies on honesty and professionalism, a requirement that police record their work using their in-car cameras, and the prohibition on using their positions for personal gain.” The officer had responded to a complaint from a woman who said patrol officers were sleeping in their cards instead of patroling, and repeatedly texted her, inviting her out. Interesting note: as in most jurisdictions, prosecutors are notified when an officer is found to be dishonest, because that finding can be used against the officer when testifying in court. But, it turns out, there’s no agency charged with looking through police records or past testimony for other evidence of dishonesty. How can you use that to make life harder for your fictional characters—officers, lawyers, victims, or witnesses?

The FBI recently audited the use of forensic hair analysis, concluding that much of it — by both state and federal analysts — was flawed. As reported in the Missoulian, several states are now conducting a review of cases in which hair analysis contributed to convictions. Flawed forensic evidence is a fascinating — and terrifying — problem, making it great fodder for crime writers. Read this article for a peek at how reviews are conducted, what factors go in to the decision to reopen a case, and some of the impact of flawed forensics on the accused. (This related article discusses two recent Montana cases involving hair analysis.)

Word Scramble — the results

Guilty as Cinnamon

On my Facebook Author page in late December, we played a game of Word Scramble, seeing how many words of three letters or more we could make from the title, GUILTY AS CINNAMON. My readers have proven they are smart and funny!

Here’s the list, as of December 27. If you find a new one, let me know in the comments!

(Yes, there are some duplicates, and some words that could be made plurals. And since this isn’t Scrabble, I did allow well-known proper names!)

 

Ugly
Man
Not
Gin
Can
Yam
Gilt
Glam
Minnion
Caning
Taming
Moan
Colt
Tug
Tin
Tan
Not
Nut
Sin
Son
Sit
Gut
Guy
Tiny
Mug
Monty
Say
Sat
Salty
Lint
Nil
Tinny
Moaning
Malt
Snug
Snit
Loan
Silt
Slit
Guilt
Silty
musty
must
sunny
Sing
gaming
taming
Mug
salt
salting
salty
cling
Clingy
Lust
lusty
Santa
long
Along
multi
yin
yang
mint
minty
minting
last
lasting
Minty
ASCII
nasty
mist
misty
Mangy
Manly
minus
music
maul
gas
canon
cannon
Moan
Mountain
Gamut
Minion
Saint
Mosaic
Malt
Cast
Slant
slanty
Stir
Mincing
Lit
List
scald
Gun
Cast
Stay
Stamina
Nasty
Guy
Manic
Salmon
nominal
lost
gist
cyst
manna
Yanni
Stalin
Clinton
most
mast
talon
salon
coast
long
clang
Lint
Loan
Litmus
tam
Glint
tiny
slimy
sling
mango
scam
scan
mount
cunning
Magic
Magi
Cast
Coma
Tug
Nanny
Among
coil
slug
nominal
oil
nail
cyan
Yam
Naming
Manila
cumin
cult
Slam
Glut
Canny
column
slot
Gusty
lug
slug
Talcum
clog
CAT
canning
lama
clam
gloat
Manic
nag
nog
snog
Nougat
Spicy
Toning
Canning
Conning
cunning
Mount
Omit
Aiming
Mainly
Molt
molting
Limn
annoys
lumin
luminous
mining
icy
icon
nylon
inane
Slim
gam
cling
yum

Wrapping up the CINNAMON fun

IMGP2110Thanks to all of you for celebrating with me the release of GUILTY AS CINNAMON, and for making it so much fun!

This week, I’ll be at the Fresh Fiction blog, revealing my 10 Favorite Things About Seattle — or at least, my 10 top faves on the day I wrote the post! I think the publisher is offering a giveaway, so check it out!

And speaking of giveaways, the Book Bitch’s December giveaway runs through Dec 31. Enter for a chance to win 4 signed books — GUILTY AS CINNAMON, TRICKY TWENTY-TWO by Janet Evanovitch, and the latest from Lawrence Block and the trio who write the winemaking detective mysteries, set in France!

Untitled-5A couple of guest blogs are still waiting in the wings, including one on what I’ve been reading recently — I’ll let you know when it’s up. And I’ll post a list of some favorite reads from the past year shortly.

Many of you have sent me kind notes, by email or on Facebook, saying how much you enjoyed GUILTY AS CINNAMON. I’m so happy! Would you please take a few minutes and post a short review on Amazon, Goodreads, or B&N.com? Your help can make a difference in how the recommendation algorithms work, and in helping other readers find my books. THANK YOU!

IMGP2188And now, life returns to normal. I’m working on the fourth Food Lovers’ Village mystery, still unnamed, and expecting edits on the third Seattle Spice Shop Mystery, KILLING THYME (October 2016), and the cover any day now. I’m working on a couple of other projects as well, along with this blog, and my regular gigs at Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen (1st, 3d, and 5th Tuesdays) and Killer Characters (the 27th of the month.) We’re working on several new projects at Sisters in Crime. And I hope to get out and enjoy that snow — or maybe stay inside and curl up with a good book.

Thanks for joining me! Keep it spicy!

Character opportunities — judges and senility

medium_5938168933Judges often play a part in mystery and crime fiction — and of course, in my day job. So naturally, this headline caught my attention: “9th Circuit addresses senility among federal judges head on.” (I read the report in the Missoulian, but it appears to have originally come from the Associated Press.)

Mental competence of state and federal judges is a critical issue, and with an aging population on the bench, one that’s getting more attention. This article describes the approach the 9th and 10th circuits are taking, and gives a few examples. Some states have mandatory retirement ages, unlike the federal system. Many states have judicial assistance programs, where judges can get help with emotional problems, addictions, and — if they recognize the problem — competence issues. Lawyers and lay people — often, a judge’s staff — can also report concerns to professionals who can then assess and intervene.

What opportunities for conflict and crisis can you give your characters — judges, lawyers, clerks, probation officers and law enforcement officers, litigants, families?

Oh, what fun it is to celebrate a new book!

ChampagneThanks to all of you for making GUILTY AS CINNAMON another national bestseller! I’m considering that an early Christmas present—but that doesn’t let Mr. Right off the hook!

And I’m delighted to report that the large print edition will be available in July 2016.

Readers and bloggers continue to be very good to me. Jennifer at Moonlight Rendezvous calls it an “exciting mystery that has the perfect recipe of charm to entice cozy readers.” And Kings River Life gives a spot-on recap.

cabinMy favorite bad boy, Alex Howard, and I are Dru Ann’s guests at Dru’s Book Musings on Friday, December 25, giving the chef’s-eye view of GUILTY AS CINNAMON—and thanks to my publisher, there will be a giveaway!

Stacy the BookBitch is including a signed copy of GUILTY AS CINNAMON in her December giveaway—along with the latest by Janet Evanovitch (TRICKY TWENTY-TWO), Lawrence Block, and the authors of the French winemaker’s mysteries. One lucky winner gets all four books!

My thanks again to all of you for sharing the CINNAMON spirit!

(Photo: Our new cabin in the woods!)

The CINNAMON Celebration Continues!

IMGP2086Cold and wet and downright yucky outside these days, but your comments and notes have me feeling all warm and fuzzy. My favorite note this past week has to be the Facebook post from the reader who said she bought GUILTY AS CINNAMON on Tuesday, release day, only to have her sister snatch it up. “Please write books my sister doesn’t like so much,” she pleaded.

Well. I love my readers, but I’m not going to promise THAT!

 

Untitled-5The reviews are delicious! I hope you’ll let me share a few quotes from reviews. Suspense Magazine will review CINNAMON in an upcoming issue. The reviewer calls it “s a zesty mix of a mystery with all the right ingredients to keep readers turning pages as quickly as possible. Delicious!”

The Open Book Society’s reviewer calls CINNAMON “[w]itty and at times intense,” saying “[t]he author’s love for the Seattle Marketplace, cozy mysteries, cooking, and spices comes through every page.” “The plot is rich with as many twists and turns as the alleys in the Marketplace, one that kept this reader revising her suspect list with each new twist. … The author has flawlessly executed a plot that had many twists and interrelationships I could not have anticipated. The main characters have a depth this reader also would not have anticipated in a relatively young series; I can’t wait for the next one to see how much better it will get!  I highly recommend ‘Guilty as Cinnamon’ to foodies who enjoy exploring new tastes and ideas (with many recipes included), cozy mystery lovers who appreciate an exceptionally well-plotted and written novel, and those who enjoy the Pacific Northwest area.”

And at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto, CINNAMON is one of bookseller Marian’s picks for December. She loves mysteries that cook up murder, and picked up ASSAULT AND PEPPER because she loves spices and knows and loves Pike Place Market.I was delighted to hear that she quickly snatched up CINNAMON, and says of the pair, “A well written series with all sorts of info on spices.”

King’s River Life gives a fun recap of the story, and courtesy of the publisher, a giveaway!

Next week in the blogosphere: On Monday, December 14, I visit Auntie M Writes to talk about how movies set in Seattle influence my writing. Tues, December 15, is my day on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen—we’re sharing ideas for Christmas celebrations. I’m pouring Pepper’s new favorite cocktail, the Negroni, and serving up Sandra’s Spiced Nuts. I’m also a guest that day on the Gotta Write Network, with a post titled No Chance of a Ghost. And on Friday, December 18, Moonlight Rendezvous will offer a review and a book giveaway.

deskcat on deskThe supervisor—aka Ruff the Cat—and I are staying home this week. No events to report. I’m planning to write. He’s planning to nap, and dream of mice. And then, I’m summonsed for jury duty in state court. Will I finally be picked for a jury—I would love to serve, but maybe not during Christmas week—or will the combination of a lawyer and a mystery writer in one woman have the lawyers scratching me off the list and taking their chances with the next pick? Stay tuned …

See you on the page —

Leslie

 

My favorite writing books

IMGP3065

A reader spotted this photograph I’d posted of dictionaries and other references on my desk, and asked what books I think every writer should have. Besides Books, Crooks and Counselors, of course.

Language and style references:

A good dictionary and thesaurus, of course. In addition:

GarnerGarner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner (Oxford; 3d Ed, 2009) Many of us remember the old Fowler’s Modern English Usage. This is better—smart, American, and up-to-date, by a lexicographer who shies not away from opining.

Chicago Manual of Style, a recent edition. Most publishers rely on the CSM, and if you use it, you can’t be accused of serious stylistic errors, even if some publishers or individuals have other preferences.

The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (various editions). The classic. Dated, maybe, but still a useful guide to many nuances of good writing.

The Emotion Thesaurus, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (2012) Readers read for emotion, but writers often use cliches and limited descriptions to show emotion in action. The lists of physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and more will help you deepen your writing and show the internal and external signs of emotion in stronger, fresher ways.

I also love the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, in part for its essays on language and word meanings, but it isn’t an essential.

You should have a decent guide to grammar, as well. Contrary to your grade school recollections, they need not be dull. What’s most fun is to read not a prescriptive guide, but a volume or two by writers who clearly love the language and have strong opinions about it. I loved Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose; any of her books will be a fun read.

I was recently reminded of the late William Zinsser’s On Writing Well; it’s a classic, geared towards nonfiction, but helpful to all serious writers. I hear tell that there’s an audio version, read by Zinsser, perhaps abridged, that a friend enjoyed tremendously.

Writers should love words and cultivate an interest in them. My favorite sources won’t necessarily be yours, but I do think any serious writer needs to spend time simply playing with words and reading writers who play with them. Read poetry. Listen closely to song lyrics. Heck, do the crossword puzzle and play along with Will Shortz, NPR’s Puzzle Master. It’s all words.

Writing Craft:

Lately, I’ve been diving into James Scott Bell’s craft books for writers, and highly recommend them. Plot & Structure (Writers Digest, 2004) is a detailed guide to structure, with excellent sections on plot problems, how to generate ideas, and more. It’s a book to use over and over. Write Your Novel from the Middle (Compendium, 2014) explores Bell’s observation that the best stories have a “mirror moment” or midpoint shift in context; he shows how both plotters and pansters can find that moment, and write to and from it. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue (Compendium, 2014) is another winner, and I’m eager to dive into his new book on voice.

The Fire in Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel, both by Donald Maass (Writers Digest, 2009 and 2001), are classics every writer should reread regularly. I’ve just started his Writing the 21st Century Novel (2012), and love, love, love his exercises and suggestions for diving deeper into character and emotion. If you like his columns on Writer Unboxed, you’ll recognize the approach—much of that material is here.

For something totally different: Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (2007) is a slim volume I love for its lessons on meter and rhythm, on finding the right word and the exact meaning, and on learning to love working a line. I also enjoyed The Art of Description by poet Mark Doty.

Other faves:

elizabethandleslie-300x199

 

Write Away, by Elizabeth George. I took a week-long intensive writing workshop with her eons ago, and it changed my writing life.

Self-Editing for Writers, Renni Brown and Dave King

Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose

IMGP3435For Mystery Writers: 

Lee Lofland’s Police Procedure and Investigation  (Writers Digest, 2007)

DP Lyle, Murder & Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forenscis Questions for Mystery Writers The book that inspired me to write Books, Crooks & Counselors.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know (Linden/Quill Driver Books)

Inspiration:

tnWritesOfPassageYou know the usual suspects: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. And Steven Pressfield’s War of Art and other titles. A wonderful new entry is Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, ed. by Hank Phillippi Ryan, with essays by 60 members of Sisters in Crime, including me.

I find inspiration in reading a good writer. I hope you do, too.

More suggestions? Tell me in the comments.